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Google Getting Into the Solar Mirror Business 139

Posted by Soulskill
from the reflects-well-on-them dept.
adeelarshad82 writes with this excerpt from a Reuters report: "Google is disappointed with the lack of breakthrough investment ideas in the green technology sector, but the company is working to develop its own new mirror technology that could reduce the cost of building solar thermal plants by [25%] or more. The company's engineers have been focused on solar thermal technology, in which the sun's energy is used to heat up a substance that produces steam to turn a turbine. Mirrors focus the sun's rays on the heated substance. ... Google hopes to have a viable technology to show internally in a couple of months, Bill Weihl said. It will need to do accelerated testing to show the impact of decades of wear on the new mirrors in desert conditions."
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Google Getting Into the Solar Mirror Business

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  • Solar Beards (Score:3, Interesting)

    by conner_bw (120497) * on Saturday September 12, 2009 @10:18AM (#29398389) Homepage Journal

    Beards at Google and this article [slashdot.org] a coincidence? I think not.

  • Power? (Score:3, Funny)

    by Coren22 (1625475) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @10:19AM (#29398395) Journal

    I guess they figured out thier electric bills were too high.

    • by hedwards (940851)
      If I'm not mistaken, they've been into solar for some time, it's just now that they're apparently planning to create some of their own hardware for parts of it.
    • by Coren22 (1625475)

      I actually remember seeing test setups of this tech 18 years ago, not a new technology, but still very cool.

      If I am seeing this right, did I get first post?

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Cheesetrap (1597399)

        I actually remember seeing test setups of this tech 18 years ago, not a new technology, but still very cool.

        Try 18 hundred years... While stories of Archimedes' Mirror [wikipedia.org] may have been greatly exaggerated (Mythbusters and a couple of independent projects have recreated the effect but with an infeasible time-frame for warfare), the concept and 'technology' of parabolic mirrors or arrays to concentrate solar heat are pretty ancient. Also, Death Ray FTW. :D

    • Re:Power? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Fred_A (10934) <fred@freIIIdshome.org minus threevowels> on Saturday September 12, 2009 @10:33AM (#29398497) Homepage

      I guess they figured out thier electric bills were too high.

      Is it just me that's annoyed that in most power plants we actually still use glorified steam engines ?

      I know that it's the best way we currently have to convert heat (which is the only type of energy we manage to recover) into electricity, but it still feels kludgy. I hope we'll figure out something else eventually.

      • Re:Power? (Score:5, Informative)

        by emilper (826945) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @10:58AM (#29398667)

        Glorified ? How about "highly sophisticated" ? Even a nuclear submarine is powered by a "glorified steam engine".

      • Re:Power? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by FooAtWFU (699187) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @11:09AM (#29398723) Homepage
        Not really. It's good, proven technology. It is simple, with just a few moving parts that all move continuously in the same direction. It scales up very well: you get one big expensive steam turbine and you can point a boatload of cheap mirrors (/heat sources) at it. It takes advantage of some of the exotic properties of one of the most fascinating chemicals out there: Water. It produces no toxic waste to dispose of (not from the steam-engine part, at least... maybe a few lubricants you'll need to recycle, but that's pretty trivial). It doesn't distribute well (if you're piping hot working fluids around from one site to another, the heat tends to leak). Photovoltaics have it beat there, but they can't use all the spectrum. I suppose it doesn't scale down spectacularly well either; you might have better luck with a Stirling engine (more moving parts, though).

        I don't see the big "kludge", myself. Is it the part where you hook it up to a bundle of wire and spin it around in a magnetic field to make electricity? I think that's pretty awesome too; you can move a whooole lot of electrons that way.

        • by Fred_A (10934)

          Not really. It's good, proven technology. It is simple, with just a few moving parts that all move continuously in the same direction. It scales up very well: you get one big expensive steam turbine and you can point a boatload of cheap mirrors (/heat sources) at it. It takes advantage of some of the exotic properties of one of the most fascinating chemicals out there: Water. It produces no toxic waste to dispose of (not from the steam-engine part, at least... maybe a few lubricants you'll need to recycle, but that's pretty trivial).

          Another fascinating chemical that's commonly used is sodium (since there are typically two circuits) which is commonly used in the secondary circuit when the heat source is radioactive.

          Still,
          nuclear (indirect if it's solar) -> heat -> motion -> electricity
          doesn't trike me as being an elegant solution even though I'll agree that it's convenient.

          • Does anyone do sodium in anything other than Fast Breeders anymore?

            My exposure to actual practice is about 30 years out of date, but I don't think much has changed.

            Liquid metals like sodium are used on Fast Breeders largely due to the moderation effect which water in the primary loop would cause.

            They do have their own issues.

            They are more expensive to build and operate because the primary loop is highly radioactive.
            Also corrosive.
            A primary/secondary leak becomes both more likely, and much more dangerous.

            For

        • Re:Power? (Score:4, Interesting)

          by jfengel (409917) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @01:02PM (#29399709) Homepage Journal

          The kludgy bit is that you go from heat->motion->electricity, with losses at each step. Maybe that's just good reuse, having already debugged both steps pretty thoroughly.

          But after a century or so of power plants, it's starting to feel like optimization is no longer premature. The power plant is the very center of a tight loop, and worth optimizing.

          Unfortunately, any time you replace a well-understood legacy system with a new one you get bugs, and the whole heat->electricity thing isn't yet anywhere near well library-quality code. It actually turns out to be less efficient, not more. But as a programmer you look at the inefficiencies and figure there's got to be a better way.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by joocemann (1273720)

          We need someone to open-source a design of one of these setups so we can build these ourselves and power our own homes with our wasted front yard space ---- the trophy yard is dying with the baby boomers.

          Or we could grow fruits/veggies in our yards and cut back on the 400 gallons of fuel/person used each year to bring us our groceries.

        • I would mod informative you up if I had some points, I figure letting you know, counts just as much :P

      • by maxume (22995)

        Look at all the ways we use glorified iron, and glorified sand.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Hurricane78 (562437)

        And this being bad exactly how?

        I mean a 300*300 km area of that tech suffices for all of humanity’s needs right now. With no rare materials, complex error-prone technology, or high costs.
        I call that a pretty sweet deal.

        Of course we will optimize it by the use of the right collector/core (imagine placing something else in the middle, like a special material or solar cell). But hey, until then, we’re very good with what we got. And the price... oh the price... Energy for next to nothing!

      • Not all power plants use steam. Some use liquid metal:
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liquid_metal_cooled_reactor [wikipedia.org]

        • Hate to break it to you, but those also use steam.

          • Yeah, I was just referring to the coolant which should have been obvious from my link but you are right I didn't address the original posters real question.

        • by Glonoinha (587375)

          If I'm not mistaken, the liquid metal is just the first step - it takes the heat from the reactor away from the core into a transfer tank that super-heats water to produce steam that drives the stator that creates the electricity.
          Ultimately the reactors all seem to work on the principle of ${heat source} + water = steam to drive a turbine :: rotary motion of wires + magnets = electricity.

          In theory a propulsion engine (boats, subs) could go directly from the steam driven shaft to a propeller, but I don't thi

        • Re:Power? (Score:5, Funny)

          by Yvan256 (722131) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @01:31PM (#29399907) Homepage Journal

          Isn't it extremely dangerous? It could escape the power plant by pretending to be a cop and then go on a killing rampage.

        • by timeOday (582209)
          I'll bet a big tank of liquid metal could stay hot for weeks without cooling off very much, too, thus providing solar energy on demand, day or night.
      • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        the Rankine cycle[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rankine_cycle] is one of the best approximations to the Carnot in the real world. Thermodynamics wont let you get much better, and there are material constraints on how high you can get your top temperature. Combined cycle (gas turbine and ranking) power-plants let the top temperature get a little higher, and so more efficient, but there are issues with size (tends to be less power) and the energy security of gas. Fuel cells allow you to side step the thermody

      • by snStarter (212765)

        I guess you haven't thought much about how much engineering has gone into making a steam-driven electrical power station have you? We have many decades of experience in making these power plants as efficient as they can possibly be. We know a LOT about them. Just because the technology has been around a long time doesn't mean it's inappropriate.

      • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

        Actually, what's annoying to me is Google's arrogance - "we realize that thousands of people, at the least have been working on solar power, increasing its efficiency and effectiveness for decades. But we figure that despite all that, we can pump out something that is 25% better, oh, in a couple of months".
        • by Patch86 (1465427)

          You can't knock them for trying.

          Any improvements they can make at all would be a good contribution to the tech. And Google have a generally good history of making good outrageous promises, so lets not write them off straight away.

      • Don't hate on steam. It may me old but it's proven, uncomplicated (which is great) and it can be generated in many ways. I dare say it's perfect.
      • by mcrbids (148650)

        Is it just me that's annoyed that in most cars we actually still use glorified wheels ?

        There, fixed that for you...

        PS: Old technology is often the best, otherwise it would be DEAD technology....

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by lennier (44736)

        We might still be using steam, but glorification technology has advanced tremendously since the nineteenth century.

        Modern glory engines generally achieve virtue ratings in the giga-archangel range on the Baden-Powell scale. The biggest problem is containment of the antikarma halo from contaminating the surrounding noosphere and uplifting our whole cultural discourse; in the worst case, this could create a self-perpetuating virtuous cycle, the so-called Shambala Syndrome. In some cases residents within fifty

  • by CRCulver (715279) <crculver@christopherculver.com> on Saturday September 12, 2009 @10:21AM (#29398417) Homepage

    It will need to do accelerated testing to show the impact of decades of wear on the new mirrors in desert conditions.

    Solar panels don't have to last too long when fusion is only thirty years away, am i rite?

    • by Coren22 (1625475)

      Back 18 years ago, Sandia Labs was running testing of something that looked like it was this in Albuequerque NM, If that ain't sandy, what is. But I guess you were just quoting the FA, and as I read Slashdot, what is the point of RTFA...

    • by FooAtWFU (699187)
      But fusion power is always thirty years away. Wait until it's ten years away, and then your mirrors will probably only need to last another fifty years or so.
    • Solar panels don't have to last too long when fusion is only thirty years away, am i rite?

      Forget it - fusion research keeps getting cut. Even without that, in the end nuclear research is a function of excess wealth in an economy. And the mentally-inverted enviro-regulators are about to start taking massive percentages of GDP out of the economy (aka Cap'n Trade) to 'save the planet', when really all they're going to do is to wreck the economy and frustrate any real fusion progress.

      FWIW, somebody out there

  • by jnmontario (865369) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @10:30AM (#29398483)
    I'd vote for them. They (corporate entity) seem to have a better head for good governance and forward thinking than any politician I've had the 'pleasure' of running in my province.
    • Why couldn't you have shut your mouth up? At least till Google is ready and agrees to assume the mantle? Now every politician is out there joining hands with all the googlophobes to [e.d.] kill google. Nothing jolts them into frenzied actions of self preservation than any threat to their incumbency, real or imagines, viable or not.
    • by arielCo (995647)
      Then they'd be more concerned about staying in office and getting their peers elected by the populace than about efficiency (or, as you call it, governance) and forward thinking. In a word, they become politicians and we're back at The Proverbial Square One.
    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Since when is censorship (China) and flying around in a huge jet (with hammocks) "good governance"? Hell one vacation trip by one google founder puts more greenhouse gasses in the air than 3 typical families.
      • by selven (1556643)
        You may disagree with Google Street View or Google owning all your private data but what they did in China is NOT evil. Their only other choice was to discontinue business in China entirely, which would have been even worse than offering a censored search engine.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ceoyoyo (59147)

      Ah, corporatism. Putting for profit businesses in charge NEVER leads to trouble.

  • Testing? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by filesiteguy (695431) <kai@perfectreign.com> on Saturday September 12, 2009 @10:46AM (#29398587) Homepage
    " It will need to do accelerated testing to show the impact of decades of wear on the new mirrors in desert conditions" - I wonder how different these mirrors are to current mirrors. After alll, we've had solar mirrror array systems here in Southern California heating up gas for over twenty years - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_Energy_Generating_Systems. I pass by one of them whenever I head up north to June or Mammoth Lake.

    The article (and others I've googled) says nothing abut what the technology will be. I wonder if it would be like the ESA improvements for the satellites - http://www.rssd.esa.int/SA/PLANCK/include/payl/node5.html
    • by Reziac (43301) *

      I don't know why they'd need to do conditions-testing; look at the auto glass in the same neighbourhood, and figure that at a couple hundred feet off the ground you get maybe 10% as much wear and tear (most of the harsh blowing sand is at ground level).

      There's a new solar-mirror setup just north of Lancaster CA. It's some sort of test prototype, I don't recall the details. The way the mirror array is situated here, the collector is visible from the ground as you go by on the highway, and the reflection is b

      • that's not the one near kramer junction? I was referring to the one just north of kramer junction - which is also north of lancaster.
        • by Reziac (43301) *

          Nope, this is actually within the city of Lancaster, just NE of the corner of Sierra Hwy (old Hwy 6) and Ave.H; built this past summer. Two mirror towers (tho they took the mirror assembly back off one of them already, why I dunno) and 6 or 8 openwork towers which I've been told are there to function as lightning rods. There was supposed to be a visitor's center built with it but so far that doesn't seem to have materialized. I don't know if it's actually functioning or not; I drive by it all the time, but

  • meanwhile.... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Luke_22 (1296823) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @10:47AM (#29398595)
    ...Italy just dropped all economical support to solar-termal energy.
    photovoltaic still has subsides, but no more for solar-thermal.
    and we were the 3rd country with most solar thermal in europe untill now.
    ...
    • Why? (Score:2, Interesting)

      by zogger (617870)

      Did they drop support because they couldn't get it to work well, or is it working well enough that no subsidies are needed anymore? Or is Italy just broke and dropping a lot of governmental spending in general?

  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @10:55AM (#29398645) Journal
    From the article:

    Weihl said Google had not intended to invest much more in early years, but that there was little to buy. "I would say it's reasonable to be a little bit discouraged there and from my point of view, it's not right to be seriously discouraged," he said. "There isn't enough investment going into the early stages of investment pipeline before the venture funds come into the play." The U.S. government needs to provide more funds to develop ideas at the laboratory stage, he said. "I'd like to see $20 billion or $30 billion for 10 yrs (for the sector)," Weihl said. "That would be fabulous. It's pretty clear what we have seen isn't enough."

    Google: "Government, please throw in some 20 or 30 billion dollars to into solar energy research"

    Govt: Nah, deficits are high. We dont have money. It should be done by the private sector. 20 or 30 billion dollars is too much way too much we cant afford it It is not a trivial sum like 780 billion dollars to clean up after wall street greedy moneybags. Tell you what? Grow too big to fail. Then come back asking for a couple of trillion dollars. Then we will be able to do it. OK?

  • "I would say it's reasonable to be a little bit discouraged there and from my point of view, it's not right to be seriously discouraged," he said. "There isn't enough investment going into the early stages of investment pipeline before the venture funds come into the play."

    The U.S. government needs to provide more funds to develop ideas at the laboratory stage, he said.

    "I'd like to see $20 billion or $30 billion for 10 yrs (for the sector)," Weihl said. "That would be fabulous. It's pretty clear what we hav

  • C'mon: they already know everything about you- they have access to your e-mail, schedule, phone calls, documents, and pretty much anything- and now they're going to take over the energy industry too? Google is aiming for world domination! Wake up sheeple!

    That was a joke. Sort of.
  • So first we had "Do no Evil" and now they're working to blind us all so we can "See No Evil" too. What next, voice recognition -- "Hear No Evil" ?

    • Google's motto isn't 'do no evil' it's 'don't be evil'. This is much easier; how many people regard themselves as evil? They can do evil as long as they are good, which is pretty much how everyone else justifies themselves.
  • Now that Google is getting more involved with energy production, how long do you think it will be before the DOJ gets more involved in manufacturing an anti-competitive case against them? Threatening oil company profits could turn a lot of 'civil servants' anti-Google.
  • Having highly efficient mirrors might be very useful, if the beards in the Middle East continue to eagerly pursue their path to self-immolation.

    Burning radioactive oil wouldn't be so good, but lining the resultant wasteland of friable radioactive glass with mirrors and then transmitting the non-radioactive electricity out would return the region to usefulness for humanity.

    (Before you flame, observe both that "beards" applies to all branches of the followers of Abraham and that the compulsion to use nuclear

    • Perhaps we should take action to ensure that the regional players are able to advance their wmd programs at a pace outstripping their ability to use them effectively.

      Producing a warhead is a relatively trivial matter whose only barriers are raw material and refining limitations.

      If refined weapons grade fissile materials are able to flow more freely throughout the region, the barrier to producing warheads drops to the point that any good machine shop could build a warhead.

      The beauty is that ability to put th

  • by TorKlingberg (599697) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @11:15AM (#29398777)

    This makes we wonder, where did Google get people who know how do develop mirrors? Did they buy a smaller solar power company, hire a bunch of people, or reassign some computer engineers?

  • If Google is smart, they will use this to start enhancing Coal and Gas plants. That will allow for manufacturing scale up, while reducing the need for new infrastructure. Adding new infrastructure (power lines, generators, etc) are very high costs and hurt the move to AE. BUT, if Google can get Solar and geo-thermal (such as their support of potter drilling) to be lower costs than Coal, then the conversion to AE and hopefully Nukes will happen rather quickly. The other thing needed is a move to electric tr
    • They could just convert the coal plant to Solar. Keeping what infrastructure is already at the site(s) then adding existing solar technology they come up with.

      Would that count as "enhancing Coal and Gas plants"?
    • by HiThere (15173)

      I think that's a good idea, but I don't think it's the first step.

      My idea of the first step is that Google builds a few pilot plants that power various Google centers during the day time. Work out the bugs on a small scale. And then license the technology to somebody else...who can use it to beef up old plants and build new ones.

  • by Thagg (9904) <thadbeier@gmail.com> on Saturday September 12, 2009 @11:42AM (#29399009) Journal

    A friend of mine who worked at Google at the time had clearly been involved in this project (although he didn't tell me...exactly) We were discussing alternative, sustainable power, and I've always been a fan of solar thermal -- he described in way more detail and depth than I thought possible the resource limits we'd run into if we tried to power America by solar thermal -- in particular the current mirrors in the prototype plants use a huge amount of aluminum, and scaling those plants up to make more than a rounding-error of our energy needs would take way more aluminum than we could forsee having. Plus, of course, it takes a ridiculous amount of electricity to refine the aluminum in the first place.

    I was rather surprised, and checked his math...which was pretty accurate. I do think that other alternatives to aluminum are practical, and Google's going there.

    Thad

    • When you consider it is still so cheap that billions of aluminum beverage and food products cans are just thrown away daily? Tons of them aren't even recycled, just tossed.

      And here's what could happen, a solar/aluminum/mirror "breeder" facility. The first solar mirror thermal plant on a big scale is tasked with just making the aluminum, from scrap or bauxite, then right next door is the fab for making the mirrors. They only have to pay full price for the first one, after that the price falls fast because th

      • by alen (225700)

        NYC they are all recycled. I see a lot of old 60 year old or so Chinese people taking them out of the trash and hauling them for the $.05 each recycling money back. they are always hauling hundreds of cans at a time. Since they live with kids or inlaws it's a nice source of tax free cash for them

        • Some places have the deposit, some don't, and as you can see, even *with* a five cent deposit, most people think so little of that that they still toss them. Without a deposit, they are mostly all tossed. Some get scavenged and recycled, some don't, and many of the people who scavenge and recycle don't even bother with the buhzillions of food cans now that have steel tops and the rest of the can is aluminum. Thye'd have to cut the tops off and rinse out the cans so they don't bother.

          Now ME, I just see them

    • Re: (Score:1, Offtopic)

      by Nadaka (224565)

      Do you have any idea how many billions of tons of aluminum ore the US military has stockpiled in bases all across the US?

      • No idea, whatsoever.

        Hint: 1billion tons of aluminum at 2,700kg/m3 = 370,000,000m3, which equals the entire forest industry of Europe's wood production.

        So, please tell us, how many multiples of Europe's production of wood per year does the US military have just lying around in bases?

      • 1 billion tons aluminum is about 6 million boeing 747's. So at each airforce base they have 80 thousand of them. Where do they park them all?
    • Recycled aluminum is cheap compared to getting it from boxite.

      If the mirrors end up generating more energy than it took to get the materials into the conditions they must be in --- and also recycle/reform/rework those materials into fresh materials down the line ---- then I think we're moving in the right direction.

      • by Rogerborg (306625)

        It's that "end up" that's the problem. We're spending (mostly) fossil energy now to build "renewable" power plants, gambling that they may pay back that energy in 25 or 30 years. If they work perfectly, and don't break down too often - which they currently do, anecdotally.

        Thing is, if we don't take that gamble, then we're boned when the fossil fuels get too expensive to extract anyway. I'm just concerned that we're currently rolling the dice for the last time, and the odds are pretty long.

    • way more aluminum than we could forsee having

      ironic that one of Google's biggest data centers is in the valley where aluminium refining used to happen in the US. Both industries need massive power, and there's a huge hydro plant at the end of that valley.

      The government drove those Al plants out of business (with regulations - they went overseas). I think I can see the problem here.

    • by goodmanj (234846)

      Let's do the math here.

      Average incoming sunlight to a desert location in the southern U.S. is about 300 W/m^2 averaged over the day and year. Let's assume 25% conversion efficiency from sunlight to electricity (better than photovoltaics, but worse than fossil fuels). To produce 300 GW of electricity (about half of present US needs), we need about 4 billion square meters of mirror. (Laid out flat, it'd be an area 63 km on a side. It's a lot of land, but it's doable.)

      Let's assume we're making these out of

  • Use More (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Wardish (699865) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @11:52AM (#29399095) Journal

    Since I'm fond of flights of fancy...

    Beam splitter, Fresnel lens, simple prisms, whatever works to separate different parts of the spectrum. Thermal energy going to thermal power generation, the rest going to solar cells that efficiently utilized that particular part of the spectrum.

    The rest of course is the engineering.

    • by goodmanj (234846)

      Optical transmission systems like splitters, lenses, and prisms have geometry issues: if the beams pass through your splitter on the way to the ground, the splitter has to be waaay up in the air.

      Your best bet is probably an interference filter placed in front of photovoltaics, with the reflected light going to a solar thermal apparatus.

      But that means building tens of square miles of delicate optically-perfect glass. It's going to be freaking expensive, and it's not going to stand up to wind, dust, and bird

  • I would bet that the tech they are developing is the software/hardware required to aim the mirrors at the focal point. If that gets standardized and mass produced, I could see dramatically scaling up solar thermal power cheaply.

    Its something I have thought about for years, but never had the capital or free time to invest in seriously.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 12, 2009 @12:30PM (#29399447)

    Did Google misinterpret the reason that Oracle bought Sun?

  • Seems to me that a better move for Google if they really wanted to help solar thermal along is to find another country in which to build it. While the US does have a good deal of sandy, sunny land which would be great for it, the US also has enough environmentalists who would tie such a project up indefinitely in order to protect the pristine desert environment. Mirrors with better wear properties are child's play compared to solving that problem.

    • Ironically, its the people who care very little about the environment that are using the arguments of those short sighted environmentalists to shoot down things like wind-power and hydroelectric generation concepts!

      Oh! The birds!! Lets just stick with oil...

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by russotto (537200)

        Ironically, its the people who care very little about the environment that are using the arguments of those short sighted environmentalists to shoot down things like wind-power and hydroelectric generation concepts!

        It's to be expected. Consider a conversation between a cigar-chomping flint-hearted power company executive and his favorite toady:

        E: Smothers! What's the hold-up with the new coal plant?
        S: Well sir, some environmentalists say coal smoke causes acid rain and carbon dioxide ruins the climate
        E: P

        • Interesting. I see what you mean.

          I suppose the problem is in prioritization --- understanding what concerns have the most value.

  • by bencoder (1197139) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @03:41PM (#29400765)

    in which the sun's energy is used to heat up a substance that produces steam

    What is this mythically substance that produces steam when heated up?

    • by ceoyoyo (59147)

      Dihydrogen monoxide. Unfortunately the stuff is toxic - it's actually one of the big non-disease related killers.

    • by Adambomb (118938)

      Heh, funny catch on the wording but i believe they're referring to the designs where an intermediate higher heat-capacity substance is heated, stored, and cycled then used to boil water for the turbines as needed to maintain a more consistent flow of energy (IE: overnight). There are already existing solar plants that use liquid sodium [wikipedia.org] as the heated element.

      • by goodmanj (234846)

        intermediate higher heat-capacity substance

        If you'll permit a little nitpicking, water has about 2-4 times the heat capacity of liquid sodium, depending on phase. Water has one of the highest heat capacities per mass of any common substance. And if you include the energy in the phase change from liquid to gas, it's even better.

        Liquid sodium has useful anticorrosion properties and is handy if you want something that stays liquid at high temperature, but from a heat capacity perspective it's got nothing on

  • Just dont forget you are an American company...

    Manufacture everything in the US :)

  • The problem with Solar thermal is that it is the energy source in inherently diffuse and to get high efficiencies you need high temperatures.

    It will be very hard to make up the factor 5 difference in cost for solar thermal vs coal. They have a better bet at developing a cheaper form of nuclear power where the energy density is 1 million times higher than coal.

    Of course cheaper nuclear has a different set of problems but at least you start out on the right side of the energy density equation.

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